What Authority Do You Trust to Give You the Bible?

BB Warfield as well as being an evolutionist introduced to Princeton Seminary biblical text criticism. He did so inspired by Westcott and Hort, who were equally inspired by the German higher critic, Griesbach. Warfield altered his interpretation of the Westminster Confession (1:8) regarding the preservation of the biblical text. He advocated a meaning the Confession that had never been held in all its history. His take was that what was meant by the preservation of the extant texts, but the providential restoration of an inerrant original text, by means of modern textual criticism. He said, “we believe in God’s continuous care over the purity of his word, we are able to look upon the labours of the great critics of the nineteenth century, Tregelles, Westcott, Hort, as instruments of Providence in preserving (i.e., restoring) the scriptures pure for the use of God’s people. Warfield’s introduction of the text criticism into Princeton was disastrous. Shortly after his demise, Princeton adopted higher criticism, where his methods were fully developed. Warfield is now gone and so too is Princeton, however, the legacy is yet being preserved at the breakaway institution, Westminster Seminary. It would seem to me that along with the modern Bible publishing fraternity, Crossway, Murdoch empire etc., they are all still, with each new version or update, engaged in that search for the “restored inerrant” text? I believe that Dr Warfield’s legacy bears that of bitter fruit, it has done immeasurable damage to the faith of God’s people in the West and continues to do so. While you all await that text they are vainly searching for I continue to hold to the Protestant, Confessional doctrine of Scripture, not that of the Roman Catholic Church. Meanwhile, peruse below some of the responses provoked by Warfield and his school:

Thomas Lindsay (1843-1914)

“But when all is said they are bound to admit (Warfield) & his school) that the attribute of formal inerrancy does not belong to the Scriptures which we now have, but to what they call, the original autographs of Scripture. It follows that the Scriptures as we now have them are neither infallible nor inspired in their use of these words. This is not an inference drawn from their writings by a hostile critic. It is frankly and courageously said by themselves, “We do not assert that the common text, but only that the original autographic text was inspired.” The statement is deliberately made by Dr Hodge and Dr Warfield. This is a very grace assertion and shows to what lengths the School are driven to maintain their theory, and it is one which cannot fail if seriously believed and thoroughly acted upon, to lead to sad conclusions both in the theological doctrine of Scripture and in the practical work of the church. Where are we to get our errorless Scripture? In the ipsissima verba (precise words) of the original autographs? Who are to recover these for us? I suppose the band of experts in textual criticism who are year by year giving us the materials for a more perfect text. Are they to be created by-and-by when their labours are ended into an authority doing for Protestants what the “Church” does for Roman Catholics? Are they to guarantee for us the inspired and infallible Word of God, or are we to say that the unknown autographs are unknowable and that we can never get to this Scripture, which is the only Scripture inspired and infallible in the strictly formal sense of those words as used by the Princeton School? I have a great respect for textual and historical Biblical critics and have done my share in a humble way to obtain recognition of their work, but I for one shall never consent to erect the scholars whom I esteem into an authority for that text of Scripture which is alone inspired and infallible. That, however, is what this formalist theory is driving us to if we submit to it. I maintain, with all the Reformers, and with all the Reformed Creeds, that the Scriptures, as we now have them, are the inspired and infallible Word of God, and that all textual criticism, while it is to be welcomed in so far as it brings our present text nearer the ipsissima verba (precise words) of the original autographs, will not make the Scriptures one whit more inspired or more infallible in the true Scriptural and religious meanings of those words than they are now (T Lindsay, 1895).

Henry Grey Graham (1874-1959)

In yet another response to Warfield with a statement by an early twentieth-century Scottish Roman Catholic bishop. While the bishop’s remarks are not directed at Warfield specifically, they offer a cogent testimony to the fact that Warfield’s appeal to the autographa, rather than to an ecclesiastical extant edition, brought the Protestant view of Scripture, as Lindsay (above) argued, closer to the Roman Catholic view with but one difference: rather than depend on the mediation of an ecclesiastical hierarchy he now looks to the text-critical community to fulfil the same role. The following quotation is all the more important because it came from the pen of a former Protestant Church of Scotland minister who held the distinction of being the only convert to the Roman communion from the Scottish Presbyterian Church ever to be made a bishop. The Rt Rev Henry Grey Graham wrote the following in his popular essay on “Where We Got the Bible” 1911):

“Pious Protestants may hold up their hands in horror and cry out, “there are no mistakes in the Bible! it is all inspired it is God’s own book?” Quite true, if you get God’s own book, the originals as they came from the hand of the Apostle, Prophet, and Evangelist. These and these men only were inspired and protected from making mistakes. The original Scripture is free from error because it has God for its author; so teaches the Roman Catholic Church; but that does not alter the fact that there are scores, nay, thousands of differences in the old manuscripts and I should like any enquiring Protestants to ponder over this fact and see how they can possibly reconcile it with their principle that the Bible alone is the all-sufficient guide to salvation? Which Bible? You know perfectly well that you must trust some authority outside of yourself to give you the Bible. We Catholics, on the other hand, glory in having some third party to come between us and God because God himself has given it to us, namely, the Roman Catholic Church, to teach us and lead us to him” (HG Graham, 1924).

The Text-Critical Community

This would be the authority outside of yourself that Graham suggests you trust to give you the Bible, lest of course like him, you cross the Tiber. God forbid!

The text is changing. Every time that I make an edition of the Greek New Testament, or anybody does, we change the wording. We are maybe trying to get back to the oldest possible form but, paradoxically, we are creating a new one. Every translation is different, every reading is different, and although there’s been a tradition in parts of Protestant Christianity to say there is a definitive single form of the text, the fact is you can never find it. There is never ever a final form of the text” (Dr D. C. Parker, Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament, Oxford University Press, 2012).

“The end result of Warfield and his School’s Restorationist Textual Criticism is scepticism, to say the least.”

It would seem to me as the cup of iniquity fills up and the last of the last days appear on the horizon, the ground is being prepared for the Man of Sin, the Antichrist. He for a short time will have his own ecclesiastical setup. And doubtless, he will have his own version of the Scriptures, everything is pointing to the ground being prepared for him. What community will you look to in these last days for a Bible, for God’s word? The Text-Critical Community, or the community of Rome.

Or to trust the Scriptures given and preserved for us as God himself promised, “The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1:8). Contrary to Warfield the Westminster divines were referring to the Scriptures that they already had, and not just to the autographa (originals) but also the apographa (copies) of which is our King James Version, given and preserved. You can read it, study it, preach from it with the utmost confidence that it is the word of God.


(James R Hamilton, July 2019)
Sermon Audio

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